Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI. 1876–79.

Switzerland: Alps, The

The Alps

By James Montgomery (1771–1854)

Part I. Day
THE MOUNTAINS of this glorious land

Are conscious beings to mine eye,

When at the break of day they stand

Like giants looking through the sky,

To hail the sun’s unrisen car,

That gilds their diadems of snow;

While one by one, as star by star,

Their peaks in ether glow.

Their silent presence fills my soul,

When to the horizontal ray,

The many-tinctured vapors roll

In evanescent wreaths away,

And leave them naked on the scene,

The emblems of eternity,

The same as they have ever been,

And shall forever be.

Yet, through the valley while I range,

Their cliffs, like images in dreams,

Color and shape and station change;

Here crags and caverns, woods and streams

And seas of adamantine ice,

With gardens, vineyards, fields embraced,

Open a way to Paradise,

Through all the splendid waste.

The goats are hanging on the rocks,

Wide through their pastures roam the herds;

Peace on the uplands feeds her flocks,

Till suddenly the king of birds

Pouncing a lamb, they start for fear;

He bears his bleating prize on high;

The well-known plaint his nestlings hear,

And raise a ravening cry.

The sun in morning freshness shines;

At noon behold his orb o’ercast;

Hollow and dreary o’er the pines,

Like distant ocean, moans the blast;

The mountains darken at the sound,

Put on their armor, and anon,

In panoply of clouds wrapt round,

Their forms from sight are gone.

Hark! war in heaven!—the battle-shout

Of thunder rends the echoing air;

Lo! war in heaven!—thick-flashing out

Through torrent-rains red lightnings glare,

As though the Alps, with mortal ire,

At once a thousand voices raised,

And with a thousand swords of fire

At once in conflict blazed.

Part II. Night
COME, golden Evening, in the west

Enthrone the storm-dispelling sun,

And let the triple rainbow rest

O’er all the mountain-tops:—’T is done;

The deluge ceases; bold and bright

The rainbow shoots from hill to hill;

Down sinks the sun; on presses night;

—Mont Blanc is lovely still.

There take thy stand, my spirit;—spread

The world of shadows at thy feet;

And mark how calmly, overhead,

The stars like saints in glory meet:

While hid in solitude sublime,

Methinks I muse on Nature’s tomb,

And hear the passing foot of Time

Step through the gloom.

All in a moment, crash on crash,

From precipice to precipice,

An avalanche’s ruins dash

Down to the nethermost abyss;

Invisible, the ear alone

Follows the uproar till it dies;

Echo on echo, groan for groan,

From deep to deep replies.

Silence again the darkness seals,—

Darkness that may be felt;—but soon

The silver-clouded east reveals

The midnight spectre of the moon;

In half-eclipse she lifts her horn,

Yet, o’er the host of heaven supreme,

Brings the faint semblance of a morn

With her awakening beam.

Ha! at her touch these Alpine heights

Unreal mockeries appear;

With blacker shadows, ghastlier lights,

Enlarging as she climbs the sphere;

A crowd of apparitions pale!

I hold my breath in chill suspense,—

They seem so exquisitely frail,—

Lest they should vanish hence.

I breathe again, I freely breathe;

Lake of Geneva! thee I trace,

Like Dian’s crescent far beneath,

And beautiful as Dian’s face.

Pride of this land of liberty!

All that thy waves reflect I love;

Where heaven itself, brought down to thee,

Looks fairer than above.

Safe on thy banks again I stray,

The trance of poesy is o’er,

And I am here at dawn of day,

Gazing on mountains as before;

For all the strange mutations wrought

Were magic feats of my own mind;

Thus, in the fairy-land of thought,

Whate’er I seek I find.

Yet, O ye everlasting hills!

Buildings of God not made with hands,

Whose word performs whate’er he wills,

Whose word, though ye shall perish, stands;

Can there be eyes that look on you,

Till tears of rapture make them dim,

Nor in his works the Maker view,

Then lose his works in him?

By me, when I behold him not

Or love him not when I behold,

Be all I ever knew forgot;

My pulse stand still, my heart grow cold;

Transformed to ice, ’twixt earth and sky,

On yonder cliff my form be seen,

That all may ask, but none reply,

What my offence hath been.